Winter is approaching for those who live in the northern hemisphere. The leaves are off of the trees, and some areas of the United States have recently had heavy snow fall. With winter comes the focus of this world’s religious holidays.
In late September, most merchants had Halloween paraphernalia in their stores. By the final week of October, a few brave businesses had already started setting out Christmas displays. In a few weeks most homes will have put up and turned on their Christmas lights. Thanksgiving has become, in too many instances, an afterthought for most of the U.S.A.
What does the day of Thanksgiving mean to you? What does it mean to most in America? All too often, it represents overeating (45 million turkeys, or 15% of the annual consumption, are eaten on Thanksgiving), lots of football games on TV, and the official opening bell of the Christmas shopping season.
A day dedicated to thanking God for our blessings should have more meaning than that, especially to Christians.
The hard journey
The story of the original American Thanksgiving comes from the times of the Pilgrims. What is often forgotten is that those Pilgrims were fleeing religious prosecution in their native England. In 1609 a group of Pilgrims left England for the religious freedom in Holland where they lived and prospered. After a few years their children were speaking Dutch and had become attached to the Dutch way of life. This worried the Pilgrims, as they considered the Dutch frivolous and their ideas a threat to their children's education and morality.
So they decided to leave Holland and travel to the New World. Their trip was financed by a group of English investors, the Merchant Adventurers. It was agreed that the Pilgrims would be given passage and supplies in exchange for working off their debt for seven years. The part of the story that doesn’t seem to get much review is how terribly hard it was for the Pilgrims. The ocean crossing was cold and damp and took sixty-five days. Since there was the danger of fire on the wooden ship, the food had to be eaten cold. Many passengers became sick and one person died by the time land was sighted on November 10,1620.
They were most ill equipped for their new homeland. The first winter was devastating to the Pilgrims. The cold, snow and sleet were exceptionally heavy, interfering with the workers as they tried to construct their settlement. March brought warmer weather and the health of the Pilgrims improved, but many had died during the long winter months. Of the 110 Pilgrims and crew who left England, less than 50 survived the first winter.
Without the assistance of their Indian friend Squanto, who helped them get native crops planted, shelter built and so forth, they might all have perished. Nevertheless, by the end of fall they had a bountiful harvest and felt blessed simply to be alive and to have food to last through the winter. They set aside three days to thank God for their harvest and deliverance and invited their Indian friends to share in the harvest.
Fast forward several hundred years and an official, national Day of Thanksgiving was established in the mid-1800s. For many decades it was recognized as a day of thankfulness, but that has waned.
Giving thanks to God for your physical blessings
What about you? What are you thankful for in this past year? What has God given to you that made your life richer in meaning?
How often do we stop and thank God for the blessings we receive? In Genesis 17 (with special focus on verses 1-7) God gave several promises to Abraham if he obeyed God’s instruction. The U.S. and certain other nations are modern recipients of those promises, but, as a people, Americans have taken those blessings for granted. Our generation is living in an unprecedented period of relative peace and economic prosperity, but instead of recognizing that God is the origin of blessings the U.S. and the world moves further from God in word and deed.
God reminded ancient Israel that if they obeyed Him, He would shower blessings upon them (Malachi 3:10, Deuteronomy 28:1-14). This was true for ancient Israel, and is true for any other nation or people who would obey God. The U.S. is still, for the moment, considered the only world super-power with the economic and military strength to take on projects or military action that the rest of the world can’t or won’t. But that is changing.
Give thanks to God for your spiritual blessings
The world around us is not thankful for the creation that God has given mankind. It’s a sad reality that most of the world worships things of the creation, or things they have created (Romans 1:21-28), instead of the one true God. Instead of glorifying God, increasing multitudes, especially in the U.S. and other western nations, dogmatically reject any thought of even God’s existence, let alone His biblically defined way of life!
When God begins to call and work with us, we become spiritual heirs of Abraham (Galatians 3:29). Christ came in part to begin to heal the damage done through mankind’s disobedience to God (Luke 4:16-19), and when we yield to God then we can have a relationship with Him. Are you grateful for what God has done in your life (Ephesians 5:20)? Are you grateful for what God promises to do in your life?
Are you thankful for the calling God has given to you? Are you thankful for the blessing of being part of a bigger spiritual family – a family that can pray for you, encourage and support you? (Colossians 1:9-12). God grants us blessings so that we remember who it is who gives us everything. Through His blessings we should also serve others (Hebrews 13:15-16).
It is interesting to note that after that first Pilgrim thanksgiving, there was not another official Thanksgiving Day until after the Civil War. The establishment of Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday was largely the result of a woman named Sarah Josepha Hale. She was the author of “Mary Had A Little Lamb” and the editor of one of the largest women’s magazines of the time.
She had campaigned for four decades to have a day of thanksgiving recognized nationally. In the process of her quest, writing numerous editorials in her magazine to promote the last Thursday of November as a day “to offer to God our tribute of joy and gratitude for the blessings of the year.” But it was the Battle of Gettysburg that finally set the stage. President Lincoln issued a proclamation on October 3, 1863 setting aside the last Thursday of November as a national Thanksgiving Day in the United States.
So what do you have to be thankful for this year? Our thanksgiving to God should be continuous throughout the year. We have much to be thankful for.